MORE LEGAL POWER FOR DOMESTIC HELP
Agreement between the UAE and the Philippines turns up the heat on greedy and unscrupulous recruiters
New rules for the recruitment of domestic workers will improve workers’ rights and reduce abuse, according to embassy officials. Companies who do not abide by the new rules could be forced to close.
Last week, an agreement was signed between the Philippine department of labour and the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, aiming to protect Filipino expatriates after Manila banned its citizens from travelling to the UAE and some other Gulf states for domestic work.
This was partly a response to exploitation by some recruiters and cases where sponsors abused maids.
In March, the Government announced that all private recruitment agencies that hired maids would have to register with Tadbeer – a network of recruitment centres regulated by the ministry. Only companies that meet Tadbeer’s strict criteria are accepted.
The Philippine consul general, Paul Cortes, said he was optimistic that the regulations would lead to a drop in the number of abuse cases.
“The agreement will make life a little bit easier for us when we want to protect our nationals,” Mr Cortes said. “Now there is a labour contract that they can refer to. Of course, that will mean employers and employees will be more careful that they meet the requirements.
“The agreement opens up a more transparent and a more rules-based approach when it comes to the hiring and employment of not just domestic workers, but migrants in general.”
Mr Cortes said employees would be bound to contractual obligations that would give household workers an avenue of redress should there be any breach of contract.
“The issues are now under the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation”, rather than the Ministry of Interior, he said.
Before the new situation, complaints about maids’ treatment had to be made directly to the police, which could quickly worsen disputes.
Now any disputes will be reviewed professionally at labour courts, “so more redress, more system and a better network”, Mr Cortes said.
“At the end, all of these point to the UAE’s efforts to ensure that everybody who lives and works in the UAE has proper avenues for redress.”
As families struggled to find Filipinas to work as housemaids during the ban, a black market emerged, offering domestic workers for hire at extortionate costs.
Five years ago, it cost Dh8,000 to hire a worker – now the figure has climbed to Dh16,000.
Maids would commonly enter the country on tourist visas and then be sponsored by their new employer.
“The removal of the ban will remove all of the unethical solutions because ethical providers like me can recruit legally now,” said Jad Barghout, chief operating officer of Maids.cc.
Five years ago, it cost Dh8,000 to hire a worker – now the figure has climbed to Dh16,000
Mr Barghout said removing the ban would cut the cost of recruiting from the Philippines.
Tadbeer introduced strict rules this year that could lead to dozens of companies shutting down if they do not meet strict guidelines to protect the rights of low-paid labour.
Mr Barghout’s company has successfully registered as a Tadbeer centre and will begin operating next week. But hundreds of other agencies were rejected, he said. That means they will have to shut down and only about 40 got shortlisted.”
Tadbeer also expects recruitment centres to follow up on any problems that maids may experience with their employers.
Mr Barghout said his company already followed this model because it sponsored the maids, so it was always in direct contact with their employees.
“If they abused them with working hours, deprived them of their day off, we send a warning,” he said.
“If they do not comply, we cancel the contract.”
The domestic helpers are trained to report any mishaps to a hotline provided by the company.
If they are sexually harassed, which Mr Barghout said could be common, “we train our maids to call the police first and then us, so we can be there”.
He said he hoped that all centres would follow this model.
“They told us at Tadbeer that we are responsible for solving the problems.
“It is a chain reaction. Companies should take care of their maids or else they will resign.
“So they have to try hard, and the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation is now watching everything, so they need to make sure that the client and workers are happy.”
This approach has worked well with their 1,270 maids so far.
“In the past two years, the complaints filed by our maids over the families they work for were very low, less than seven or eight, because we solve them straight away,” Mr Barghout said.
Supporters of the new legislation say it will mean peace of mind for domestic staff and strengthen the Government’s supervision of recruitment agencies